Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
DavidHume
Copyright©2010–2015Allrightsreserved.JonathanBennett
[
Brackets
]
encloseeditorialexplanations. Small
·
dots
·
enclosematerialthathasbeenadded,butcanbereadas
thoughitwerepartoftheoriginaltext.Occasionalbullets,andalsoindentingofpassagesthatarenotquotations,
aremeantasaidstograspingthestructureofasentenceor athought.—-The‘volume’referredtoattheoutset
containedthepresentwork,theDissertationonthePassionsandtheEnquiryConcerningthePrinciplesofMorals,
whichwereallpublishedtogether.]
Firstlaunched:July2004
Lastamended:January2008
Contents
Section1: Thedifferentkindsofphilosophy
1
Section2: Theoriginofideas
7
Section3: Theassociationofideas
10
Section4: Scepticaldoubtsabouttheoperationsoftheunderstanding
11
Part2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Section5: Scepticalsolutionofthesedoubts
19
Part2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
Section6: Probability
28
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FirstEnquiry
DavidHume
Section7: Theideaofnecessaryconnection
29
Part2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
Section8: Libertyandnecessity
40
Part2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48
Section9: Thereasonofanimals
53
Section10: Miracles
55
Part2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59
Section11: A particularprovidenceandafuture state
70
Section12: The scepticalphilosophy
78
Part2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82
Part3 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84
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FirstEnquiry
DavidHume
1: Differentkindsofphilosophy
Mostofthe principlesandreasoningscontainedinthisvolumewerepublishedinaworkinthree volumescalledATreatise
ofHumanNature—aworkwhichtheauthorhadplannedbeforeheleftcollege,andwhichhewroteandpublishednotlongafter.
Itsfailuremadehimawareofhiserrorinpublishingtooearly,andhereworked thewholethinginthefollowingpieces,in
whichhehopeshehascorrectedsomecarelessslipsinhisreasoning,andmoreinhisexpressionofhisviews,intheTreatise.
Yetseveralwriterswhohavehonouredtheauthor’sphilosophywithanswershavetakencaretoaimtheirgunsonlyatthat
youthfulwork,whichtheauthorneveracknowledged,
·
havingpublisheditanonymously
·
,andtheyhaveboastedofthevictories
theythoughttheyhadwonagainstit.Thisbehaviourisflatlycontrarytoalltherulesofhonestyandfairness,andastriking
exampleofthedebatingtricksthatbigotedzealotsthinkitisallrightforthemtoemploy. Fromnowon,theauthorwantsthe
followingpiecestoberegardedasthesolesourceforhisphilosophicalopinionsandprinciples.
Section 1: The different kinds of philosophy
Moral philosophy, or the science of human nature, can
be treated in two different ways, each of which has its
ownspecialmeritandmaycontributetotheentertainment,
instruction,andreformationofmankind[
‘moralphilosophy’here
covers everystudyinvolving human n nature, including history, politics,
etc.
]
Oneofthe two treatmentsconsidersman chieflyas
bornforaction,andasguidedinhisconductbytasteand
sentiment[
=‘feelingoropinion’
],pursuingoneobjectandavoid-
inganotheraccordingtothevaluethey seemto haveand
accordingtothelight inwhich theyarepresented. As virtue
isagreed to be themostvaluablething onecould pursue,
philosophersofthiskindpaintvirtueinthemostcharming
colours,gettinghelpfrompoetryandeloquenceandtreating
theirsubjectinapopularandundemandingmannerthat is
bestfittedtopleasethereader’simaginationandarousehis
affections. They selectthemoststrikingobservationsand
examplesfromcommonlife; they setup proper contrasts
between opposite characteristics
·
suchasvirtueand vice,
generosityandmeanness
·
;and,attractingus intothepaths
ofvirtuebyvisionsofgloryandhappiness,theydirectour
steps in these paths by the soundest rules and the most
vividexamples. They makeusfeelthedifferencebetween
vice and virtue; they arouse and regulate our beliefs and
feelings;andtheythinktheyhavefullyreachedtheirgoalif
theymanagetobendourheartstotheloveofhonestyand
truehonour.
Philosophers who do moral philosophy inthe second
wayfocusonmanasareasonable rather thanasanactive
being,andtrytoshapehisthinkingmorethantoimprove
hisbehaviour. They regard human nature asasubjectof
theoreticalenquiry,andtheyexamineitintently,tryingto
find the principles that regulate our understanding, stir
up our sentiments, and make us approve or blame this
or that particular object, event, or action. They think it
somewhatdisgracefulthatphilosophyhasn’tyetestablished
anagreed accountofthefoundationofmorals,reasoning,
and artistic criticism; and that it goes on talking about
truthandfalsehood, viceandvirtue, beautyandugliness,
1
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FirstEnquiry
DavidHume
1: Differentkindsofphilosophy
without being able to fix the source of these distinctions.
Whiletheyattemptthishardtask,nodifficulties deterthem;
movingfromparticularinstancestogeneralprinciples,they
thenpushtheirenquiries still further,to getto principles
thatareeven moregeneral,and they don’tstop, satisfied,
until theyarriveatthe basic principlesthat setthelimits
tohumancuriosityineverybranchofknowledge. Though
theirspeculationsseemabstract,andevenunintelligibleto
ordinary readers, they aim at getting the approval of the
learned and the wise; and think themselves well enough
compensatedfortheirlifetime’sworkiftheycanbringout
intotheopensome hiddentruthsthatmaybe goodforlater
generations to know.
[
In the writings of f Humeand others of f his
time,a‘principle’couldbesomethingpropositionalsuchastheprinciple
that everyeventhasa cause, but it could also o bea non-propositional
force,cause,orsourceofenergy.Makeyourowndecisionaboutwhether
in thisparagraph(andsomeothers)‘principle’hasonemeaningorthe
otherorboth.
]
Thegeneralrunofpeoplewillcertainlyalwayspreferthe
relaxedandobviouskindofphilosophytotheaccurateand
abstruse kind; and many will recommend the former as
beingnotonlythemoreagreeableofthetwokindsbutalso
themoreuseful.
[
Tous‘accurate’meanssomethinglike‘correctas
aresultofcare’. InHume’sdayitoftenmeantmerely‘donewithcareful
attentiontodetail’,withnoimplicationofbeingcorrect. Thisversionwill
let ‘accurate’stand; butmanyof Hume’susesof itwouldstrikeyouas
oddif you didn’tknow what he meant by it.
]
It enters more into
commonlife;mouldstheheartandaffections;andbecause
itinvolves principlesonwhichpeopleact,itreforms their
conductandbringsthemnearertothemodelofperfection
that it describes. The abstruse philosophy, on the other
hand,isbasedonamentalattitudethatcannotenterinto
·
every-day
·
business and action; so itvanishes when the
philosophercomesoutoftheshadowsintodaylight,andits
principlescan’teasilyinfluenceourbehaviour. Thefeelings
ofourheart,theagitationofourpassions,theintensityof
our affections, scatter all its conclusions and reduce the
profoundphilosophertoamerepeasant.
Theeasyphilosophy—letusfacethefact—hasachieved
morelastingfamethantheother,and rightlyso. Abstract
reasonershavesometimesenjoyedamomentaryreputation,
becausethey caughtthe fancy of their contemporaries or
becausethelatterwereignorantofwhattheyweredoing;but
theyhaven’tbeenabletomaintaintheirhighstandingwith
latergenerationsthat weren’tbiased in their favour. Itis
easyforaprofound
·
abstract
·
philosophertomakeamistake
in his intricate reasonings; and one mistake is bound to
leadtoanother,whilethephilosopherdriveshisargument
forwardandisn’tdeterredfromacceptinganyconclusionby
itssoundingstrangeorclashingwithpopularopinion.Notso
withaphilosopherwhoaimsonlytorepresentthecommon
sense of mankind in more beautiful and more attractive
colours: ifbyaccidenthefallsintoerror,hegoesnofurther.
Ratherthanpushingon,herenewshisappeal tocommon
senseandtothenaturalsentimentsofthemind,getsback
ontotherightpath,andprotectshimselffromanydangerous
illusions.ThefameofCiceroflourishesatpresent;butthat
ofAristotleisutterlydecayed. LaBruyèreisreadinmany
landsand still maintains his reputation: but the glory of
Malebrancheisconfinedtohisownnation,andtohisown
time.AndAddison,perhaps,willbereadwithpleasurewhen
Lockehasbeenentirelyforgotten.
Tobeamerephilosopher isusuallynotthoughtwellofin
theworld,becausesuchapersonisthoughttocontribute
nothingeithertotheadvantageortothepleasureofsociety,
toliveremotefromcommunicationwithmankind,and •to
be wrapped up in principles and notions that they can’t
possiblyunderstand.Ontheotherhand,themereignoramus
2
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FirstEnquiry
DavidHume
1: Differentkindsofphilosophy
isstillmoredespised;andatatimeandplacewherelearning
flourishes,nothingisregardedasasurersignofanill-bred
castofmindthanhavingnotasteatallforlearning.Thebest
kindofcharacterissupposedtoliebetweenthoseextremes:
retaininganequalabilityandtasteforbooks,company,and
business;preservinginconversationthatdiscernmentand
delicacy thatarisefromliterarypursuits, andinbusiness
preserving thehonesty andaccuracy thatarethe natural
resultofasoundphilosophy.Inordertospreadanddevelop
suchanaccomplishedkindofcharacter,nothingcanbemore
usefulthanwritingsintheeasystyleandmanner,whichstay
closetolife,requirenodeepthoughtorsolitaryponderingto
beunderstood,andsendthereaderbackamongmankind
full of noble sentiments and wise precepts, applicable to
every demand of human life. By means of such writings,
virtuebecomeslovable,thepursuitofknowledgeagreeable,
companyinstructive,andsolitudeentertaining.
Manisareasonablebeing,andassuchhegetsappro-
priatefoodandnourishmentfromthepursuitofknowledge;
butsonarrowarethelimitsofhumanunderstandingthat
wecan’thopeforanygreatamountofknowledgeorformuch
security inrespect ofwhat we do know. As well asbeing
reasonable, manisasociablebeing; but he can’talways
enjoy—indeedcan’talwayswant—agreeableand amusing
company. Man is also an active being; and from that
dispositionofhis,aswellasfromthevariousnecessitiesof
humanlife,hemustputupwithbeingbusyatsomething;
but the mind requires some relaxation, and can’t always
devote itself to careful work. Itseems, then, that nature
has pointed out a mixed kind of life as most suitable for
thehumanrace,andhassecretlywarnedusnottotilttoo
farinanyofthesedirectionsandmakeourselvesincapable
of other occupations and entertainments. ‘Indulge your
passionforknowledge,’saysnature,‘butseekknowledgeof
thingsthatarehumananddirectlyrelevanttoactionand
society. Asforabstrusethoughtandprofoundresearches,
Iprohibitthem, and ifyou engage in them I will severely
punishyoubythebroodingmelancholytheybring,bythe
endlessuncertaintyinwhichtheyinvolveyou,andbythe
cold receptionyourannounced discoverieswill meet with
whenyoupublish them. Beaphilosopher,butamidstall
yourphilosophybestillaman.’
Ifpeopleingeneralwerecontentedtoprefertheeasyphi-
losophytotheabstractandprofoundone,withoutthrowing
blameorcontemptonthelatter,itmightbeappropriateto
goalongwiththisgeneralopinion,andtoalloweverymanto
enjoywithoutoppositionhisowntasteandsentiment. But
the friends of the easy philosophy often carry the matter
further, even to point of absolutely rejecting all profound
reasonings,orwhatiscommonlycalledmetaphysics;
·
and
thisrejectionshouldnotbeallowedtopassunchallenged
·
.
SoIshall nowproceedtoconsiderwhatcanreasonablybe
pleadedonbehalfoftheabstractkindofphilosophy.
Letusfirstobservethattheaccurateandabstractkind
ofphilosophy hasone considerable advantagethatcomes
fromitsbeingofservicetotheotherkind.Withouthelpfrom
abstractphilosophy, the easy and human kind cannever
beexactenoughinitssentiments,rules,orreasonings. All
literature isnothingbutpicturesofhumanlifeinvarious
attitudesand situations, and theseinspire uswith differ-
ent sentiments of praise orblame, admiration orridicule,
accordingtothequalitiesoftheobjecttheysetbeforeus.An
artistmustbebetterqualifiedtosucceedinpresentingsuch
picturesif,inadditiontodelicatetasteandsensitiveuptake,
hehasanaccurateknowledgeoftheinternalstructureand
operations oftheunderstanding,theworkingsofthe pas-
sions,andthevariouskindsofsentimentthatdiscriminate
vice and virtue. However difficult this search into men’s
3
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FirstEnquiry
DavidHume
1: Differentkindsofphilosophy
interiorsmayappeartobe,itistosomeextentneeded by
anyone wanting to describe successfully the obvious and
outwardaspectsoflifeandmanners.Theanatomistpresents
totheeyethemosthideousanddisagreeableobjects;buthis
scienceisusefultothepainterinpresentingevenaVenusor
aHelen.Whilethe painteremploysalltherichestcoloursof
hisart,andgiveshisfiguresthemostgracefulandengaging
airs, he still has to attend to the inward structure of the
humanbody,thepositionofthemuscles,thestructureof
thebones,andthefunctionandshapeofeverybodilypart
ororgan.Accuracyalwayshelpsbeauty,andsolidreasoning
always helps delicate sentiment. It would bepointlessto
praiseonebydepreciatingtheother.
Besides, it is notable that in every art or profession,
eventhoseofthemost practical sort, aspirit of accuracy
(howeveracquired)makesforgreaterperfection andrenders
theactivitymoreserviceabletotheinterestsofsociety. And
evenifphilosopherskeepthemselvesfarfromtheworldof
business and affairs, the spirit of philosophy, if carefully
cultivatedbyanumberofpeople,mustgraduallypermeate
thewholesocietyandbringphilosophicalstandardsofcor-
rectnesstoeveryartandcalling.Thepoliticianwillacquire
greaterforesightandsubtletyinapportioningandbalancing
power;thelawyermoremethodandfinerprinciplesinhis
reasonings; and the army general more regularity in his
discipline, and more caution in his plans and operations.
The growing stability of modern governments, compared
withtheancient,hasbeenaccompaniedbyimprovements
in the accuracy of modern philosophy, and will probably
continuetodoso.
Evenifthesestudiesbroughtnoadvantagebeyondgrat-
ifying innocentcuriosity, thatoughtn’ttobedespised,for
it’sonewayofgettingsafeandharmlesspleasures—fewof
whichhavebeenbestowedonhumanrace.Thesweetestand
mostinoffensivepath of lifeleads through theavenuesof
knowledgeandlearning;andanyonewhocaneitherremove
anyobstaclesalongthepathoropenupnewviewsoughtto
thatextenttoberegardedasabenefactortomankind. And
thoughthese
·
accurateandabstract
·
researchesmayappear
difficultandfatiguing,somemindsarelikesomebodiesin
this: beingendowed withvigorousand flourishing health,
theyneedsevereexercise,andgetpleasurefromactivities
that most people would find burdensome and laborious.
Obscurity,indeed,ispainfultothemindaswellastothe
eye;buttobringlightfromobscurityisboundtobedelightful
andrejoicing,howeverhardthelabour.
Butthisobscurityintheprofoundandabstractkindof
philosophyis objectedto,notonlyaspainfulandtiring,but
alsoastheinevitablesourceofuncertaintyanderror. Here
indeedliesthefairestandmostplausibleobjectiontoalarge
partof metaphysics,that itisn’tproperly ascience
[
=‘isn’t
atheoreticallydisciplinedpursuitoforganisedknowledge’
]
,butarises
eitherfromthefruitlesseffortsofhumanvanity,tryingto
penetrateinto subjectsthatareutterlyinaccessibletothe
understanding,orfromthecraftofpopularsuperstitions
which,beingunabletodefendthemselvesbyfairarguments,
raisetheseentangling
·
metaphysical
·
bramblestocoverand
protecttheirweakness.
·
Eachof theseissometimestrue;
and the misuse of metaphysics by the friends of popular
superstitionisvexatious
·
. Chased fromtheopencountry,
theserobbersrunintotheforestandlieinwaittobreakin
oneveryunguardedavenueofthemind andoverwhelmit
withreligiousfearsandprejudices. They canoppressthe
strongestandmostdetermined opponentifheletsuphis
guardforamoment. Andmanyoftheiropponents,through
cowardiceandfolly,openthegatestotheenemies—
·
thepur-
veyorsofsuperstition
·
—andwillinglyandreverentlysubmit
tothemastheirlegalsovereigns.
4
FirstEnquiry
DavidHume
1: Differentkindsofphilosophy
Butisthisagoodenoughreasonforphilosopherstohold
backfromsuch researches,toretreatandleavesuperstition
inpossessionofthefield?Isn’titpropertodrawtheopposite
conclusion,andseethenecessityof carrying thewarinto
themostsecretrecessesoftheenemy? Itisnousehoping
that frequent disappointment will eventually lead men to
abandonsuchairypursuits
·
asthesuperstitiousones
·
,and
discover the proper province of human reason. For one
thing,manypeoplefindittooobviouslytotheiradvantage
tobeperpetuallyrecallingsuchtopics;andfurthermorethe
motiveofblinddespairshouldneveroperateinthepursuit
of knowledge, for however unsuccessful former attempts
may have proved there is always room to hope that the
hardwork,goodluck,orimprovedintelligenceofsucceeding
generations will reach discoveries that were unknown in
former ages. Each adventurous thinker will still leap at
theelusiveprize, and find himselfstimulated rather than
discouraged by the failures of his predecessors; while he
hopes thatthegloryofsucceedinginsuchahardadventure
is reserved for him alone.
·
So the friends of superstition
and bad philosophy will never just give up
·
. The only
waytofreelearningfrom
·
entanglementin
·
theseabstruse
questionsistoenquireseriouslyintothenatureofhuman
understanding,andthroughanexactanalysisofitspowers
andcapacityshowthatit’sutterlyunfittedfor suchremote
andabstrusesubjects.Wemust submittothishardworkin
ordertoliveateaseeverafter;andwemustcultivatetrue
metaphysicscarefully,inordertodestroymetaphysicsofthe
falseandadulteratedkind. Lazinessprotectssomepeople
fromthisdeceitfulphilosophy,butothersarecarriedintoit
bycuriosity;anddespair,whichatsomemomentsprevails,
may giveplace laterto optimistichopes and expectations.
Accurateandvalidreasoningistheonlyuniversalremedy,
fittedforallpeopleofallkinds—
·
lazyandcurious,despairing
and hopeful
·
—and it alone can undercut that abstruse
philosophyandmetaphysicaljargonthatgetsmixedupwith
popularsuperstition,presentingthelatterinamannerthat
casual reasonerscan’tunderstand,andgivingittheairof
realknowledgeandwisdom.
So anaccurate scrutinyofthepowersand facultiesof
humannaturehelpsustoreject,aftercarefulenquiry,the
mostuncertainanddisagreeablepartoflearning;anditalso
brings many positive advantages. It is a remarkable fact
aboutthe operations of themind that, although they are
most intimately present to us, whenever we try to reflect
onthemtheyseemtobewrappedindarkness,andtheeye
·
of the mind
·
can’t easily detectthelinesand boundaries
thatdistinguishthemfromoneanother. Theobjects
·
ofthis
scrutiny—i.e. theoperationsof themind
·
—areso rarefied
thattheykeep changing;so theyhavetobegraspedinan
instant, whichrequiresgreat sharpnessof mind, derived
from nature and improved by habitual use. So it comes
aboutthatinthepursuitofknowledgeaconsiderablepart
ofthetaskissimplytoknowthedifferentoperationsofthe
mind, to separate them from each other, to classify them
properly,and tocorrectall the seemingdisorderinwhich
they lie when we reflect on them. This task of ordering
and distinguishing has no merit when it’s performed on
external bodies, the objects of our senses; but when it’s
directedtowardstheoperationsoftheminditisvaluablein
proportiontohowharditistodo.Evenifwegetnofurther
thanthismentalgeography,thismarkingoutofthe distinct
partsandpowersofthemind,it’satleastasatisfactionto
gothatfar;andthemoreobvioustheseresultsmayappear
(andtheyarebynomeansobvious),themoredisgracefulit
mustbeforthosewholayclaimtolearningandphilosophy
tobeignorantofthem.
5
FirstEnquiry
DavidHume
1: Differentkindsofphilosophy
Nor can there remain any suspicion that this branch
of knowledge—
·
the pursuit of accurate and abstract
philosophy
·
—is uncertain and illusory, unless we adopt
a scepticism that is entirely subversive ofall theoretical
enquiry, and even of all action. It can’tbe doubted that
the mind is endowed with various powers and faculties,
thatthesearedistinctfromeachother,thatwhatisreally
distincttotheimmediateperceptionmaybedistinguishedby
reflection;andconsequentlythatinallpropositionsonthis
subjecttherearetrueonesandfalseones,andsortingthem
outlieswithinthereachof human understanding. There
aremany obviousdistinctions ofthiskind, suchasthose
betweenthewillandunderstanding,theimagination andthe
passions,whicheveryhumancreaturecangrasp;andthe
finerandmorephilosophicaldistinctionsarenolessrealand
certain,thoughtheyareharderto grasp. Somesuccesses
intheseenquiries,especiallysomerecentones,cangiveus
abetterideaofthecertainty andsolidityofthisbranchof
learning. Willwethinkitworththeeffortofanastronomer
togiveusatruesystemoftheplanets,andtodeterminethe
positionandorderofthoseremotebodies,whileweturnour
nosesupatthosewhowithsomuchsuccessdeterminethe
partsofthemind—atopicwhichforuscomesvery closeto
home?
Butmaywenothopethatphilosophy,ifcarriedoutwith
care and encouraged by the attention of the public, may
carryitsresearchesstill further? Mightitnot
·
getbeyond
the task of distinguishing and sorting out the operations
of the mind, and
·
discover, at least in some degree, the
secret springs and drivers by which the human mind is
actuated in its operations? Astronomers were for a long
timecontentedwithproving,fromthephenomena,thetrue
motions,order,andsizeoftheheavenlybodies;untilatlast
ascientist,
·
IsaacNewton
·
,camealongandalsodetermined
thelawsandforcesbywhichtherevolutionsoftheplanets
aregovernedanddirected. Similarthingshavebeendone
withregardtootherpartsofnature. Andthereisnoreason
todespairofequalsuccessinourenquiriesintothepowers
andorganisationofthemind,ifwecarrythemoutasably
and alertly
·
as those other scientists did their work
·
. It
is probable that one operation and principle of the mind
dependsonanother;whichmayinturnbebroughtundera
stillmoregeneral anduniversalone;anditwillbedifficult
forustodetermineexactlyhowfartheseresearchescanbe
carried—difficultbeforewehavecarefullytried,anddifficult
evenafter. Thismuchiscertain: attemptsofthiskindare
made every day evenbythosewho philosophize the most
carelessly;andthegreatestneedistoembarkonthe project
withthoroughcare and attention. Thatisneeded so that
ifthetaskdoesliewithinreachofhumanunderstanding,
it can eventually end in success; and if it doesn’t, it can
be rejected with some confidence and security. But this
lastconclusionisnotdesirable,andshouldn’tbearrivedat
rashly,foritdetractsfromthebeautyandvalueofthissortof
philosophy.Moralistshavealwaysbeenaccustomed,when
theyconsideredthevastnumberandvarietyofactionsthat
arouseourapprovalordislike,tosearchforsomecommon
principleonwhichthisvarietyofsentimentsmightdepend.
Andthoughtheirpassionforasinglegeneralprinciplehas
sometimescarriedthemtoofar,itmustbegrantedthatthey
areexcusableinexpecting to findsomegeneralprinciples
underwhichallthevicesandvirtuescanrightlybebrought.
Similarattemptshavebeenmadebyliterarycritics,logicians,
andevenstudentsofpolitics;andtheirattemptshavemet
with somesuccess, though thesestudies may comeeven
nearertoperfectionwhentheyhavebeengivenmoretime,
greateraccuracy, and moreintensivestudy. To throwup
at once all claimsto this kind of knowledge can fairly be
6
FirstEnquiry
DavidHume
2: Theoriginofideas
thought to be more rash, precipitate, and dogmatic than
eventheboldestandmostaffirmativephilosophythathas
everattempted to imposeitscrudedictatesandprinciples
onmankind.
Ifthesereasoningsconcerninghumannatureseemab-
stractandhardtounderstand,whatofit?Thisisn’tevidence
of their falsehood. On the contrary, it seems impossible
thatwhathashithertoescapedsomanywiseandprofound
philosopherscanbeveryobviousandeasy
·
todiscover
·
.And
whatevereffortstheseresearchesmaycostus,wecanthink
ourselvessufficientlyrewardednotonlyinprofitbutalsoin
pleasure,ifbythatmeanswecanaddatalltoour stockof
knowledgeinsubjectsofsuchenormousimportance.
Still,theabstractnatureofthesespeculationsisadraw-
backratherthananadvantage;butperhapsthisdifficulty
canbeovercomebycareandskillandtheavoidanceofall
unnecessary detail; so inthe following enquiry I shall try
to throw some light on subjects from whichwise people
have been deterred by uncertainty, and ignorant people
havebeendeterred byobscurity. Howgooditwouldbeto
be able to unite the boundaries of the different kinds of
philosophy,byreconcilingprofoundenquirywithclearness,
and truthwithnovelty! And still better if byreasoning in
thiseasy manner I can undermine the foundations of an
abstrusephilosophythatseemsalwaystohaveservedonly
as a shelter to superstition and a cover to absurdity and
error!
Section 2: The origin of ideas
Everyonewillfreelyadmitthattheperceptionsofthemind
whenamanfeelsthepainofexcessiveheatorthepleasure
ofmoderatewarmthareconsiderablyunlikewhathefeels
whenhelaterremembersthissensationorearlierlooksfor-
wardtoitinhisimagination.Memoryandimaginationmay
mimicorcopytheperceptionsofthesenses,buttheycan’t
createa perception thathas as muchforceand liveliness
astheonetheyarecopying. Evenwhentheyoperatewith
greatestvigour,themostwewillsayisthattheyrepresent
theirobjectsovividlythatwecouldalmostsaywefeelorsee
it.Exceptwhenthemindisoutoforderbecauseofdisease
ormadness,memoryandimaginationcanneverbesolively
astocreateperceptionsthatareindistinguishablefromthe
oneswehaveinseeingorfeeling.Themostlivelythought is
stilldimmerthanthedullestsensation.
Asimilardistinctionrunsthroughall theotherpercep-
tionsofthemind. Arealfitofangerisverydifferentfrom
merelythinkingofthatemotion. Ifyoutellmethatsomeone
isinlove,Iunderstand yourmeaningandformacorrect
conceptionofthestateheisin;butIwouldnevermistake
that conception for the turmoil of actually being in love!
Whenwethinkbackonourpastsensationsandfeelings,our
thoughtisafaithfulmirrorthatcopiesitsobjectstruly;but
itdoessoincoloursthatarefainterandmorewashed-out
thanthoseinwhichouroriginalperceptionswereclothed.
Totellonefromtheotheryoudon’tneedcarefulthoughtor
philosophicalability.
Sowecandividethemind’sperceptionsintotwoclasses,
onthebasisoftheirdifferentdegreesofforceandliveliness.
Thelessforcibleandlivelyarecommonlycalled‘thoughts’
7
FirstEnquiry
DavidHume
2: Theoriginofideas
or‘ideas’. Theothershavenoname inourlanguageorin
mostothers,presumablybecausewedon’tneedageneral
labelforthemexceptwhenwearedoingphilosophy.Letus,
then,takethelibertyofcallingthem‘impressions’,usingthat
wordinaslightlyunusualsense.Bytheterm‘impression’,
then,Imeanallourmorelivelyperceptionswhenwehearor
see or feel or love or hateordesire orwill. Thesearetobe
distinguishedfromideas,whicharethefainterperceptions
ofwhichweareconsciouswhenwereflecton
[
=‘lookinwards
at’
]
ourimpressions.
Itmayseematfirstsightthathumanthoughtisutterly
unbounded: it not only escapes all human power and
authority
·
aswhenapoor manthinksofbecomingwealthy
overnight,orwhenanordinarycitizenthinksofbeingaking
·
,
butisn’tevenconfinedwithinthelimitsofnatureandreality.
Itisaseasyfortheimaginationtoformmonstersandtojoin
incongruousshapesandappearancesasitistoconceivethe
mostnaturalandfamiliarobjects.Andwhilethebodymust
creep laboriously overthesurfaceofoneplanet,thought
can instantlytransportustothemostdistantregionsofthe
universe—andevenfurther.Whatneverwasseenorheard
of may still beconceived; nothing is beyond the powerof
thoughtexceptwhatimpliesanabsolutecontradiction.
Butalthoughourthoughtseemstobesofree,whenwe
lookmorecarefullywe’llfindthatitisreallyconfinedwithin
very narrowlimits, and that all thiscreativepowerofthe
mindamountsmerelytotheabilitytocombine,transpose,
enlarge,orshrinkthematerialsthatthesensesandexperi-
enceprovideuswith.Whenwethinkofagoldenmountain,
weonlyjointwoconsistentideas—gold andmountain—with
whichwewerealreadyfamiliar.Wecanconceiveavirtuous
horsebecauseourownfeelings enableustoconceivevirtue,
andwecanjointhiswiththeshapeofahorse,whichisan
animalweknow.Inshort,allthematerialsofthinkingare
derivedeitherfromour outwardsensesorfromourinward
feelings: allthatthemindandwilldoistomixandcombine
these materials. Putinphilosophical terminology: allour
ideasormorefeebleperceptionsarecopiesofourimpressions
ormorelivelyones.
HerearetwoargumentsthatIhopewillsufficetoprove
this.
(1)
Whenweanalyseourthoughtsorideas—however
complex or elevated they are—we always find them to be
madeupofsimpleideasthatwerecopiedfromearlierfeelings
or sensations. Even ideas thatat first glance seem to be
thefurthestremoved from thatoriginarefound oncloser
examinationtobederivedfromit.TheideaofGod—meaning
aninfinitelyintelligent,wise,andgoodBeing—comesfrom
extending beyond all limits the qualities of goodness and
wisdomthatwefindinourownminds.Howeverfarwepush
thisenquiry,weshallfindthateveryideathatweexamineis
copiedfromasimilarimpression. Thosewhomaintainthat
thisisn’tuniversallytrueandthatthereareexceptionstoit
haveonlyoneway ofrefutingit—butitshouldbeeasyfor
them,iftheyareright. Theyneedmerelytoproduceanidea
thattheythinkisn’t derived fromthissource. Itwillthen
beuptome,ifIamtomaintainmydoctrine,topointtothe
impressionorlivelyperceptionthatcorrespondstotheidea
theyhaveproduced.
(2)
Ifamancan’thavesomekind ofsensationbecause
there issomething wrong withhiseyes, ears etc., hewill
neverbefoundto havecorresponding ideas. A blind man
can’t form a notion of colours, or adeaf man a notion of
sounds. Ifeitheriscured ofhisdeafnessorblindness,so
thatthesensationscangetthroughto him,theideascan
then get throughas well; and then he will find iteasy to
conceivetheseobjects. Thesameistrueforsomeonewho
hasneverexperiencedanobjectthatwillgiveacertainkind
of sensation: a Laplander or Negro has no notion of the
8
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